Jesus H. Christ! In Sincerity Forever, Mac Wellman's strenuous 1990 one-act satire about extremist thinking, the Son of God, toting staff and suitcase, arrives onstage and swears up a storm. As a testifying black woman, no less. This mightily upsets the young Southern crackerheads and peckerwoods of trashy Hillsbottom, U.S. of A., who wear Ku Klux Klan outfits, spout how they're "ignorant forever in absolute sincerity" and query each other about the order of the universe, only to conclude that "the most important thing is not what you know but whether or not you're sincere." They also worry about "mystic furballs" overtaking them. Those furballs -- in the form of vile aliens with a whole lotta hair and even more attitude -- do just that.
Clearly Jesse Helms would not be amused -- even though the polemical comedy is dedicated to him.
As a diatribe, Sincerity Forever is aggressively refreshing: whether the subject is race, sex, politics, religion or art, people think they can say or do anything as long as they're sincere. As a play, however, Sincerity Forever is unfunnily stuck on one, often scatological, note. Though the characters talk and talk and talk, they end up saying variations on the same vacuous thing over and over.
Sincerity Forever begins with two redneck teen-aged girls chatting about their type of nothing, followed by male hicks doing the same. Then one of the girls and one of the guys babble philosophically on a first date. Later, after the sci-fi furballs descend to wreak havoc (but before the female Christ appears to finish things off), the humans end up mixing and matching their earlier conversations so that the date becomes a spin on homosexuality, and the girls wind up spewing furball rants. That these repetitions are intentional doesn't prevent them from quickly turning predictable. The superficially caustic humor further suffers from its obvious -- and distracting -- symbols. With "pure" white sheets, hellish alien grunge and a shrouded-in-blackest-secrecy suitcase, you don't really have to, or want to, pay attention to the swarm of words to get the point.
Sincerity Forever is the initial offering of Stageworks, a new theater company determined to become, according to the play's program, "the new cutting edge of live entertainment in Houston" for twenty- and thirtysomethings. It's not an auspicious premiere. Still, the young company fills the production with enough gung-ho energy to suggest they have some potential. And the gutted Heights Theatre (the company's base), with its exposed lighting, strewn extension cords, vast black platform stage and makeshift seating, is the sort of underground venue that fits Sincerity Forever's crude thematics.
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Company founder and Sincerity Forever director and designer Wayne Wilden creates a suitable downhome atmosphere for the play, putting ripped-out seats, a steering wheel and cut-out front headlights from an old Ford on a runway thrust in front of a blue sheet bearing a star-speckled, full moon-containing night sky. It's here -- in a vehicle -- that most of the action occurs, except when the characters get particularly wound up and need to move around by walking down steps on either side of the stage to kick at oil barrels, spare tires, tree stumps and dented hubcaps placed at audience level. Also appropriate are the Johnny Cash songs that sound man Dustin C. Newcomb airs before the show begins, the gospel that plays from the heavens when Jesus starts a'preachin', and the crickets and cicadas that threaten to drown out the offending naifs.
The performers all throw themselves into their roles -- such as they are -- managing to create interest even though they remain largely stationary. Audra Blohm's dippy girl and Boyd Lawrence's doltish guy are particulary engaging in their stupidity. Maniacal Patrick West and Patrick Reynolds, leather-bound, army-booted and dirt-encrusted, deserve mention as the nose-picking, everywhere-scratching, cynicism-spewing "hellacious badass furballs." And Kelley Dianne Smith is a force as a Messiah who's part Jeremiah, part Fury.
One hopes that next time around Stageworks will have better material on which to expend all this energy. It's sadly apropos that at one point an irate Jesus H. Christ announces she has nothing more to say and then, rather than shut up, goes on to rail about how pissed she is. In a play with endless drivel about God's Will, countless reprises of the phrase "sincerity forever" and jokes about somebody being so dumb that "he couldn't spell I.Q. if you spotted him a 'Q,'" there's not much that even the best actors could do to salvage things.
Sinceritiy Forever runs Fridays and Saturdays through August 27 (plus a pay-what-you-can benefit on Sunday, August 28 at the Heights Theatre, 339 W. 19th St., 946-0113.)